Grief without fantasy

This will not be a comforting read if you’ve lost a pet or loved one. This is not here to comfort you or provide support. You will be happier not having read it, because there are some things you shouldn’t be comfortable or happy with.

I am an atheist.

I say that without the preconception that I’m right. I could say that I’m an agnostic, but it would be incorrect even if it would be more scientifically valid. There could be a creator, but I cannot shake the conclusion that if they exist they would be a being of unimaginable, revolting cruelty, whatever their imagined “higher purpose,” and totally unworthy of their power.

Being an atheist isn’t a belief I can shake. Some people seem capable of forgiving death, pain, and loss. I’m not equipped for that.

The dog I’ve had for almost 12 years has died. Here are some pictures.

I do not have enough and never will. I have his ashes, a paw print from the vet, and they are cold and dead and not him at all, but my bug brain draws some perverse comfort from these things.

I had him since he was 4 months old, have taken care of him almost every single day, fed and watered him, let him outside, brought him in when he wanted, brushed him, picked burrs and tangles from his fur, brought him to the vet when he was sick, shouldered thousands of pounds over the years of dogfood and toys and collars and sticks and tethers, leashes, treats, training pads, flea treatments. I worked for him, endured pain I would have for a scant few other beings on this planet, and now he is gone.

People have told me “that’s life,” “that’s a long life for a dog,” “he lived a good life.” I am struck each time by the memory of how happy and healthy he was the morning of the day he died. He ran up the stairs to get inside, I remember the sound of his feet vividly. I was called home from work and less than an hour after I got back, he was gone forever. People can shut the fuck up about how “it was his time to go.”

I know, fundamentally, this is not how it had to be. He had cancer we didn’t know about and that the world does not care enough to treat with the same passion as people. His joints were healthy but even if they weren’t we don’t accept that as a reason to destroy the elderly.

He did not have to die so suddenly and when he did, and it’s infuriating to me that we just accept this because the world is less without him. We build stadiums and pour billions of dollars into our entertainment rather than take better care of our pets because “that’s a long life for a dog.” I would give up anything right now for another day with him.

I can’t begrudge the momentum that these platitudes have in our culture, for thousands and thousands of years we’ve just had to live with death. But neither can I forgive it when it’s directed at me. I hate everyone that’s dared to tell me that he “had a good long life” because there was plenty more life in him, I can still hear it in my head, I am still surrounded by his toys and tethers and food, bowls, shed fur. I have a video of him alive less than a month before, I took him camping and sat down in a hunting blind by the park’s lake – he was bored but I wanted pictures, knowing I had to prepare for his loss but not knowing how soon it would come. I didn’t take enough.

People who have integrated this idea that death is “the natural order” without question, without thinking about the consequences for people and pets who they give up on helping so that they can extract a little more joy out of material comforts are baffling to me now. Having to live next to them and explain myself to them and function without screaming and breaking shit just to make them more comfortable with my presence is possibly the most unbearable part of this. It is unnatural to continue working through this, and my stomach has churned every single day since from it.

So what now?

I am a chemistry student and I know there is chemistry to be done to fight this. Rapamycin research is happening, people are studying pet longevity looking to extend their lifespan. I feel like right now they are the only people in this world to get it, but at the same time it’s too painful to comprehend systematically tooling my career to that purpose.

I could do what everyone else does, hunker down and take comfort in bullshit while people stronger than me endure the cold slog towards freedom from whatever we can wrench away from biology. So far that’s all I’ve done, it’s all I’ve been able to do. No one would blame me but myself.

Knowing it’s worth having known and loved Riku is some comfort. He was so pure, he loved everyone he met. I have a video of my brother’s cat licking his head, obviously grumpy but permitting it, and it’s a reminder of that, his patience with us was unreal sometimes. He was medicine for me and us, everything was easier with him around.

But I refuse the idea that it was natural for him to die. Death isn’t natural. There is no nature and no meaning to this, no one and nothing “meant” for him to go, no purpose could justify it that I would not fight with every fiber of my being.

So I don’t know what now. I am still learning what this means to me. I have learned that it isn’t good or healthy, in the same way that it isn’t good or healthy if my arm were ripped off. We would not tolerate anyone saying that to someone who had endured a loss to their body, and we do for death when the lives of others take up so much of our minds, and it’s only a source of disgust to me now.

Every single morning I wake up and think to myself “It’s time to let Riku out,” every day I come home and pause for a moment at the door waiting for him to trot up to be let outside. Don’t tell me about god or nature or healing. You don’t know shit.

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